Having now seen a number of notable Christian films, I feel safe in saying that, while they can all use improvement in multiple areas, where these films first start to go wrong is in the writing. From clunky dialogue to uneven pacing to obvious themes, the writers of these screenplays have exhibited very little understanding of how writing for the screen actually works.
It usually begins with intention. More so than in any other filmmaking subset, Christian film seems to spring primarily from the intent to inspire and challenge the audience with Biblical messages. All other priorities – including and especially artistic ones – are secondary to the evangelistic goals of the filmmaker.
Of course, Christian directors aren’t the only ones trying to convey something specific with their films. Plenty of others have seen film as the ultimate opportunity to get their message across, going back as far as the Silent Era. The difference, however, is that these directors, even in their most thematically obvious works, still understand film as an art form. They understand the value in well-developed characters, each with their own unique backstory and voice. The understand the ebbs and flows of compelling storytelling. They understand that their message is infinitely more likely to strike a chord with the audience within the context of a good story, well told.
While Christian film has certainly started to improve, with films like Risen, Believe Me, and The Case for Christ being specific standouts, we still have a long way to go. And, as stated, the writing is where we need to start.
Many years ago, I worked as a freelance script reader/consultant for a couple of producers. I eventually moved away from this, choosing to focus more on my film criticism. However, in recent years, as I’ve attended the International Christian Film Festival and developed relationships with Christian filmmakers, I’ve seen the need amongst novice screenwriters for professional assistance. So I chose to once again hang my shingle out as a script consultant, this time specifically for writers. I’ve lowered my rates to something more affordable for screenwriters, and have spent the last year helping out where I can. It has been tremendous fun to see the writers I’ve been working with improve over time, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to put my own talents and education to good use. It is very common in the faith-based filmmaking community to assume that the call to action is enough; that we can jump right into making a film with little to no training and God will take care of the rest. While I do agree that God has still used lesser quality Christian films to still speak to an audience, this is no excuse for filmmakers to shrug off education and consultation. In any other field, God’s call would only be the beginning, at which point the believer would do everything they could to be the best in their field. With artistic pursuits, which can be a bit more intangible, this instinct is often ignored, to the detriment of the finished product.
So I would encourage those reading this that are pursuing filmmaking to educate yourselves. Attend film school, read instructional books, or at the very least watch a lot of great movies. Immerse yourselves in film, so that, when the time comes to make one, you have several things to draw from in order to make the best film you’re able to. But it needs to start with the script.